Support Net Neutrality; but need level playing field: Telecos

While coming out in support of Net Neutrality, telecom service providers on Friday said there is a need to create a level playing field to run a ‘viable’ business and demanded that same rule should apply for same services, including VoIP services such as Skype.

Net Neutrality is the principle that service providers should treat all data on the internet equally, and not discriminate or charge differently by user, content, site, platform, or application. The telecom operators in the country have been receiving a lot of flak from the users as they are perceived to against open internet.

The service providers also warned that if they were to offer unlimited VoIP (voice over Internet Protocol) the mobile data prices will need to be increased by atleast six times for operators to sustain business.

“If the same rules are not to apply, then the only way this industry can be viable is data rate will be 6x from where they are there today. After that, you can do what you want, it really does not matter… But if you take data rate to 5x or 6x, a lot of people in India will never use the Internet,” COAI Vice-Chairman and Bharti Airtel India Managing Director Gopal Vittal said.

Operators are presently required to ensure a level of service quality, pay levies to the government and intercept communication for preventing any terrorist act, COAI said. However, no such rules are applicable on Internet-based calling applications.

Trying to allay customer fears, the telecom operators stressed, “Nothing changes for the customer. All we are saying is that basic communication services be subject to same rules that we are subject to…OTT gives us business. We as industry love OTT players, we are not against them.”

While the debate on Net Neutrality has been on at the global level for a long time, in India it was triggered when country’s largest operator Airtel in December 2014 announced plans to start charging customers for VoIP services, such as Skype and Viber. The debate gained national momentum when telecom regulator TRAI, in a first step towards making regulating the issue, came out with consultation paper inviting user comments on the subject. Recently, Airtel announced another initiative Airtel Zero, for which it received a lot of flak as this too is seen as violating Net Neutrality.

However, Idea Cellular Managing Director Himanshu Kapania said there is no linkage between a zero rating plan and Net Neutrality and it the two exist together is many parts of the world.

Mr Vittal argued, “We have a platform on which anybody can come. Its free for the customers, some service providers pay…its like saying that since we have a toll free number for Dominoes, people will only call them as calls are free.”

Mr Kapania pointed out that although the industry has made an investment of about Rs 7.5 lakh crore in the last 20 years, the return has been measly, at only 1 per cent. It is estimated that an investment of Rs 5 lakh crore is required to be put in by telecos in the next 5 years to build infrastructure.

As per COAI, cumulative debt on telecom operators is to the tune of Rs 3 lakh crore.

Meanwhile, Vodafone India CEO Sunil Sood called for an open and healthy debate on the subject. "Let the government decide the rules of the game," he added. Here's all you need to know about net neutrality and the controversy surrounding the issue.

Here's all you need to know about net neutrality and the debate surrounding the issue.

Net neutrality

Net neutrality is a principle that says Internet Service Providers (ISPs) should treat all traffic and content on their networks equally.

How does net neutrality affect you?

The internet is now a level-playing field. Anybody can start up a website, stream music or use social media with the same amount of data that they have purchased with a particular ISP. But in the absence of neutrality, your ISP might favour certain websites over others for which you might have to pay extra. Website A might load at a faster speed than Website B because your ISP has a deal with Website A that Website B cannot afford. It’s like your electricity company charging you extra for using the washing machine, television and microwave oven above and beyond what you are already paying.

Why now?

Late last month, Trai released a draft consultation paper seeking views from the industry and the general public on the need for regulations for over-the-top (OTT) players such as Whatsapp, Skype, Viber etc, security concerns and net neutrality. The objective of this consultation paper, the regulator said, was to analyse the implications of the growth of OTTs and consider whether or not changes were required in the current regulatory framework.

What is an OTT?

OTT or over-the-top refers to applications and services which are accessible over the internet and ride on operators' networks offering internet access services. The best known examples of OTT are Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, e-commerce sites, Ola, Facebook messenger. The OTTs are not bound by any regulations. The Trai is of the view that the lack of regulations poses a threat to security and there’s a need for government’s intervention to ensure a level playing field in terms of regulatory compliance.


>Privileging telcos over netizens - Prabir Purkayastha The sort of closed Internet that TRAI is proposing, in defiance of the principle of net neutrality, is no longer on the discussion agenda in any country.

>Live Chat: The Hindu conducted a live chat on how net neutrality affects users. The panel included Pranesh Prakash from Centre for Internet and Society, Vijay Anand from The Start Up Centre and Sriram Srinivasan, The Hindu's Business Editor - Online.

Key players

  • Internet Service Providers like Airtel, Vodaphone, Reliance...
  • The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India which lays down the rules for telecom companies
  • The Internet companies like Facebook, Google, whatsapp and other smaller startups
  • You, the consumer

The Hindu Editorials

  • > The importance of Net neutrality: Should the Internet be touched? That's one way to summarise the twenty questions the TRAI has asked the public in a recent consultation paper.
  • > Blow for Net neutrality: Flipkart had to contain the fallout after Airtel Zero was severely criticised by the proponents of Net neutrality, the principle that all Internet traffic has to be treated equally.

>News analysis: Flipkart and flipside

Is Flipkart so naive not to know the implications of Airtel Zero for the overall Internet ecosystem?

>Here's why you're wrong, Mr. Zuckerberg

The Facebook founder said universal connectivity and net neutrality can co-exist.

>Here's all you need to know on the issue

Missed the debate? A look at the issue of Net neutrality and the controversy surrounding it.

>Telecom Ministry to submit report by May 9

The government has set up a six-member committee to examine the issue of Net neutrality.

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Printable version | Aug 4, 2021 2:06:30 AM |

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